Dear Pope Francis,
Although I am not a Catholic, Catholicism will forever be a part of my family and a part of my life. And so, as a gay man who was christened in the Catholic Church, I wanted to write you a letter on the day of your inaugural mass as pope. Whether or not you like it, what you do over the next decade will matter greatly to the world and to all of God’s LGBTQ children who live in it. But before I talk about that, perhaps I need to take a step back and tell you what Catholicism has meant to me.
You see, Pope Francis, whenever I think of Catholicism, I can’t help but think of my grandmother.
My grandmother immigrated to the United States from Lebanon in the 1950’s in hope of a better life. When she came to the U.S. with my grandfather, she had little that she could bring with her. She brought her two oldest sons, the clothes she could fit in a suitcase, her dreams, and her faith. And I know that I wasn’t alive to witness it, but I can only imagine the way that she gingerly unpacked her crucifix and hung it over her bed on the first night she spent in America, that first night after flying across the Atlantic to a new life. As she raised my father’s family, her Catholic faith sustained her through hardship. It sustained her through poverty, sustained her as she struggled to learn the language of a new land, sustained her when my Aunt Linda died of cancer, and again when my Uncle died a few years ago.
Whenever I think of Catholicism, I also think of my father.
My father is the son of immigrants, and he grew up struggling in a family that worked hard to survive. Growing up, he didn’t always have a lot, and he had to work hard for whatever he got. He worked his way through grade school to support his family, he worked his way through college to pay for tuition, and he worked his way all the way to a PhD in toxicology and pharmacology. Every step of the way, his Catholic faith served as an anchor, anchoring who he was and helping him to know where he had come from. While we haven’t ever discussed it, I can’t help but think that his faith was part of why he was able to struggle against such great odds.
And whenever I think of Catholicism, I think of my best friend Alex.
As a closeted 16-year-old, I was nervous about what coming out would mean for the rest of my high school experience. During my first year of high school, I had made great friends and built a wonderful community for myself, but out of my many high school friends, one stood out. His name was Alex, and my freshman year we had played the Mad Hatter and March Hare together in our school’s production of Alice in Wonderland. From that moment on, we were best friends. But when I decided to come out to him, I wasn’t sure what to think; after all, he was Catholic. Yet despite my fears, it turned out that he was one of the most supportive people in my life during the coming out process. He helped me to accept who I was and to deal with the trouble that came up in other parts of my life. Without his love and support, I wouldn’t be who I am today; and while we haven’t talked about it, I can’t help but think that he learned to love the way he did from his life in the Church.
Pope Francis, I think that you can learn some incredible lessons from the Catholics that have nurtured me throughout my life and have made me the person that I am today. While you may not understand LGBTQ people, I hope that you can come to understand us in the same way that my grandmother came to understand a new country. While you may not know very much about the LGBTQ community, I hope that you can ceaselessly struggle to educate yourself in the way that my father struggled to earn an education. And while you may not be the most supportive at the moment, I hope that you can learn to be as supportive and loving to LGBTQ people as my best friend was to me.
While I did not grow up Catholic, I did grow up Christian, and if there’s one thing that I learned about Christ from my time in Church, it’s that he walked alongside everyone. During your time as pope, I can only hope that you will do the same.